Fried Calamari

It wasn’t too many years ago that squid was considered nothing more than fish bait. Now it is on the appetizer menu of just about every Italian (and even non-Italian) restaurant you can name. There are several reasons why calamari fritti has become popular, not the least of which is that it is quite delicious. Also, for the restaurant owner, the low food cost allows for a high profit margin (which is why some Italian restaurants serve really large portions to evoke that “Wow!” expression).

And, too, the ease by which the dish is made (it doesn’t take a culinary graduate to turn out a delicious plate of calamari fritti) and the reasonably quick prep time, makes this squid pro show an appetizer to contend with.
†Some basic information: †You can buy squid whole (body, head and tentacles intact). You can buy squid as a tube (just the body sac) cleaned and ready to slice into rings. Or, you can buy just the rings. Or you can buy rings and tentacles. Any or all of these options will come to you frozen.

The least expensive purchase is the whole squid. However, it requires some time for cleaning, but it’s not all that difficult. First the defrost: put the squid in a large stainless steel bowl of cold water and place it under cold running water. In less than an hour, the squid will be ready for cleaning. To clean, hold the body (mantle) of the squid in one hand and the head and tentacles in the other. Pull gently to separate the two parts. Cut off the tentacles just above the eyes. Squeeze the base of the tentacles to push out the hard round†beak. Remove the viscera and the plastic-like quill. Rinse the body cavity thoroughly and pull off the purplish covering on the mantle (all of this can be done a day ahead and kept covered in the cooler). Cut the body sac into half-inch rings. Cut the tentacles in half, and we are almost ready to fry. (I like to soak the rings in milk for up to 30 minutes to eliminate some of the fishiness.)

Calamari Fritti
Yield: 6-8 servings (scale up in direct proportion)

2 pounds squid rings,
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper

Heat the oil in the deep fryer to 375 F. In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, pepper.
Toss the squid rings in the flour mixture to coat. Shake to remove excess flour (putting the squid rings in a sieve or strainer makes this go easier).
Drop the squid rings in the hot oil and fry for no longer than 2 minutes (overcooking turns delicate rings into chewy rubber). Remove from the fryer and drain. Serve with lemon wedges and warm marinara dipping sauce. For added interest, sprinkle each serving with finely chopped parsley.
Extra tips. For a crunchier ring, combine 1 cup yellow cornmeal with the all-purpose flour. Add 2 teaspoons paprika to the flour mixture to enhance the color of the finished product.